You breathe the air, you value it, but, rarely are you in love with it; for example when you go to the hills. You sail over the sea and you can’t help falling in love with it. It is around you; but, soon, you have it in your veins. It lends a distinct touch of romanticism by itself and to all objects around it: the sun, the moon, the stars, land, hills, rocks and beaches.
The lure of the sea becomes so strong that you can’t resist it. It is that strange enigma that draws you closer, serenades you, bewitches you, overpowers you and makes you a willing slave to be taken by it wherever it wants you to go.
Ever since the time Man discovered that seas connect lands, man have ventured into the sea to discover brave new world. Folklore, fiction and recorded history have lent adequate sentimentality to the discoveries beyond the seas; from Stevenson’s Treasure Island to Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea, from Columbus’s discovery of America to Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea. The fact is that even pirates have added to the romanticism of the seas.
You read, you hear, you see and then you join the Navy; to fight against visible and invisible enemies. Soon, the sea becomes your life; you can’t live without it. The way you do things at sea, your language, your conduct, indeed your very being becomes different from those of land-lubbers. The more they look at you with awe, the more you want to be at sea, your home. The days and months spent away from the sea are considered wasted and you start to rue the moment you are posted ashore. How nice it would be – you day-dream – if you could spend your life at sea without having to go ashore?
The serene, dark-blue, slate-grey or even black sea tempts you. On a moonlit night, it provides a most inviting picture. Sea-gulls waft over it to break the monotony of looking at its rugged vastness; dolphins tell of approaching land; and, sea horses when the winds are strong, present another beautiful picture. Indeed, looking at every mood of the sea, you realise you can never get bored. Even from ashore as you sit, reclining against a rock, you wistfully read Byron: ‘Roll on thou dark blue ocean’. You can’t help observing that sea and its surroundings are virtual heaven on earth.
Lets cut to the time when the sea gets rough. You can’t believe it is the same tranquil sea lulling you into a siesta on a hot summer afternoon. Its transformation is as if your pet-dog, nestling against your feet and lovingly caressing you with its warm and soft fur, suddenly decides to get charged-up and bite you in your calf, drawing blood and enormous pain. whilst earlier you used to get conscious of its serene beauty, now its might and truculence impinge on your senses. Whilst the sea churns itself in response to weather it churns your innards too if you are sailing over it.
It makes the ship roll from side to side or pitch from end to end and sometimes apply a sadistic motion called the cork-screw-motion; which is a combination of roll and pitch. Anywhere you are on the ship, for example, standing your watch on the Bridge, there are many occasions when you are airborne (one of the many reasons why Navy is called a truly three-dimensional service!) you hold on to the nearest support and pray that your sea-legs that you developed over years would be strong and steady enough to steady you. You pray that at least you won’t puke all over and let people around you know that you aren’t as much of a sea-man as you pretended to be.
You go down to the mess and don’t feel like eating anything. It is because there is rising matter in your food-pipe and the food that you eat can only go down if it competes against the rising matter. There must be some way, you tell yourself, to calm the sea within even when the one without is roaring. Nothing helps. In any case, on the dining table, the crockery sways and slides from side to side and you have to synchronise all the moving parts including the spoon in your hand to help the food inside the mouth.
At moments like these, you ask yourself: why do men go to sea? To discover the brave new world, to conquer, to control? Oh God, you tell yourself, teach me to be brave.
It would have been alright if you had to just be at sea. But, you have to close-up on watch and conduct exercises and evolutions. In one of these, I had a Leander (Giri class) frigate engaged with me on the tanker Aditya in RAS or Replenishment At Sea. At one moment, I saw that on the Leander, half the forecastle (pronounced foxle) dipped into the sea and came back with an exploding wash. I closed my eyes and prayed that the six sailors on their foxle would be still there when it emerges out of the sea. I could count only five and I was about to raise alarm. But, after the wash cleared I noticed the sixth one clinging for dear life to the breakwater ahead of the 4.5 inch gun-mounting. It was touch and go. It is frequently so at sea.
I have never puked at sea though once I came very close to it on a Petya because of the sickening GT (Gas Turbines) exhaust fumes within the ship. I was one of the fortunate ones who are at home in any sea conditions. But, I have seen people wrenching their guts out until there is nothing left to throw up.
So, finally, after days and nights of the wretchedness, you return to harbour. As you step ashore you are still dazed from the experience. The steady land doesn’t respond like the rhythmic roll and pitch that you got used to and now, it is over land, that you tend to stumble; somewhat similar to Sandra Bullock’s landing from a space capsule on a Hawaiian island in the movie Gravity.
Two days in harbour…and, you start going for morning jogs, evening clubs, tennis, swimming, movies and meeting friends. It doesn’t sound real at all. It sounds listless, lifeless, dull and devoid of interest. It is crazy but you long to be at sea again…tossing about, wind bringing damp salt to your face, battling against elements and be counted as a man. You say to yourself without pretence, without rancour: Sea is where I like to be; sea is me.
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